Bookstores and Libraries in a Post-Pandemic World

Like most people, my activities the last three months have consisted of working from home, weekly trips to the grocery store, and watching the news for signs of re-opening here in New York. I was beyond thrilled to finally get a haircut a couple of weeks ago and to see us moving into Phase 3 of re-opening this week, at least in my neck of the woods. The best part of Phase 3? Both my local library branch and my nearest Barnes and Noble have reopened! Bookstore hand sanitizer

There are some indie bookstores downtown that haven’t reopened yet, but I’ll take what I can get! While it was exciting to finally be in familiar and comforting surroundings, it was definitely a surreal experience. Today, I will share my experiences of visiting the library and bookstore in a post-pandemic world. If your local branches or bookstores haven’t reopened yet, you can probably get a good idea of what to expect based on what I observed at mine.

First, the library:

Visiting the library felt nice and normal. There were of course several changes and safety measures in place. These included:

Library mask sign
Masks that cover the mouth and nose are required in all public places in New York, including my local libraries.

Masks: All patrons and library employees have to wear masks which cover your nose and mouth.

No books for sale: The rooms where used books are usually available for purchase have been temporarily cleared of all books.

Limiting the number of people: Before entering the main library area with the books and computers, a library employee was counting patrons and doing a mask-check. There is a limited number of people allowed in the library at a time so as to allow room for physical distancing.

Plastic shields: Plastic shields have been installed around the counter but there was no need for me to approach it as my library system has had self-checkout kiosks for some time.

Once inside, it was browsing as usual. I was able to wander the different sections and select which books I’d like to take home. There was more open space than before the shut-down, as some opens shelves, tables, etc. have been removed. I was able to browse and select books, check out by myself, and head home with a bag of new books to read without having to come into close contact with anyone! There are limited services at most of our libraries for the time being, meaning one person at the computer center at a time and no conference or meeting rooms available.

Library safety sign
This poster with ways to stay healthy and stop the spread of COVID-19 and other germs was on display in the library.

As for returning materials, patrons are encouraged to utilize the drop box outside of the library instead of bringing materials inside to return them. All returned items are quarantined for 72 hours before being checked back in. But the return date will be the date you dropped them off, not the date they are actually checked back into the system. So if you’re like me and keep some books right up until the due date, you don’t have to worry about fines.

All in all, it was a great trip to the library. It felt normal and routine and gave me hope that this “new normal” won’t be as bad as I had feared.



Now, for the bookstore:

My local Barnes & Noble opened earlier than I thought they would. Other bookstores fall into the retail category and can’t open until Phase 4. Perhaps Barnes & Noble got to open early because they serve food from their café or perhaps it’s because they offer many educational workbooks and activities for kids. In any event, I was excited to get the email that my local store had re-opened!

Like with the library, there were definitely changes and safety measures in place. These included:

Bookstore outside signs
A display outside of my local Barnes & Noble noting such changes as updated hours, mask requirements, safe social distancing guidelines, and symptoms of COVID-19.

Signs outside the store: Before even entering the store, there is a sign display stating the requirements to enter (masks), symptoms of COVID-19, and listing the updated store hours.

Open doors: The store’s doors were propped open so no one had to touch the door handles going in or out.

Hand sanitizer: Sanitizer was available immediately upon entering the store along with another reminder to wear a face covering.

Shelves and displays: The bookshelves have been rearranged with many popular sections, like YA, opened up to allow room for physical distancing while browsing. There were also noticeably fewer collectibles, like Funko figurines, on display. An entire shelf display that used to be all Funko was completely cleared off.

Bookstore empty shelves
Shelves that normally held dozens of Funko collectibles were empty. There were some Funkos on display in another section, but it was nowhere near the number that used to be displayed.

The café: The café was open for food and drinks but for to-go orders only. All tables and chairs had been cleared from the café so no one can sit and eat, read, work, chat, etc. I suppose you could get a coffee or something to drink while you browse books, but that might be difficult as you would have to constantly touch your face to remove your mask every time you take a drink. Stores requiring masks may not allow this, so it’s best to ask your local store if you can enjoy a drink while browsing before placing your order.

Bookstore cafe
The normally bustling Barnes & Noble cafe has been cleared of all chairs and tables. The cafe is still open, but for to-go orders only.


The check-out counter: Plastic shields have been installed at the check-out counters, providing a shield between employees and customers. All employees in the store were wearing masks, and the employees at the check-out counter also wore gloves. The line for the check-out counter had physical distancing markers six feet apart to help customers know where to stand and how to properly distance while in line.



Things that were mostly the same:

Tables of books: There were still tables with stacks of books, many on sale, but the tables were spread out more than usual so people can move around without coming into close contact with one another.

Restrooms: The restrooms were available to customers but were limited to one person at a time in the multi-stall restroom. Hand sanitizer was available upon leaving the restroom.

Children’s displays: There were many displays in the children’s section highlighting workbooks and learning activities for kids and their parents to utilize over the summer.

Sale sections/ tables: There was a sale section with books discounted to about $5 to $7 each. This section was much larger than the normal table or two I usually see in the store. It was called the Book Annex, and it took up most of the space to the right of the registers in my store, where stationary, journals, and travel books are usually displayed. Those things were still there, but there were several tables and shelves filled with sale books as well.

All in all, it was a little strange visiting both places, but for the most part, it felt nice and normal. I hadn’t been to my library or bookstore since late February, just before our shutdown. That’s almost four months of going without something that was a weekly or bi-weekly trip for me. It’s been hard.

My only real disappointment of the day was when I walked into the Barnes and Noble. I love the smell of that store – a combination of coffee, cookies, and new book smell. But with my nose covered by my mask, I couldn’t smell it. It was a bit of a bummer, but I fully understand and support the reason we have to wear masks. I suppose it’s a small price to pay to have my bookstore back! I’m thrilled both of these places are open again and I only pray our cases in NY continue to decline even more so that phase 4 may start as planned.

Have your local libraries and bookstores reopened? What was your experience like your first time back? Hopefully it was positive and you got to enjoy some much needed in-person book browsing! Even if your local Barnes & Noble has reopened like mine, please remember to show some love to your local indie bookstores as they reopen and start trying to recover from the last few months. They need our support now more than ever!

Stay safe and healthy, friends, and as always, happy reading!


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